ShotSpotter: Detecting gunshots during the Fourth of July

South Bend Police have been singing the praises of some new technology to track gun violence.

The ShotSpotter uses acoustic sensors to detect gunshots and pinpoint where they were fired, allowing police to arrive on the scene much quicker than in the past.

It was introduced in January, and has been very effective, even helping solve some cases that may have otherwise gone unsolved.

However, some people may be wondering if ShotSpotter will create more work and confusion for police as we approach the 4th of July holiday.

For many people, it is hard to tell the difference between a gunshot and a firecracker.

As we head in the heart of Independence Day celebrations, we will be hearing plenty of fireworks.

What does that mean for the city's high tech gunshot sensor?

“We're pretty confident that the shot-spotter technology does a really good job weeding out fireworks from gunshots and in the week or two before the 4th of July, of course, we're ramping up to it right now, and we are hearing some fireworks out there right now and, thus far, ShotSpotter has done an excellent job of determining true gunshots from fireworks because they're out there as we speak,” says Captain Phil Trent, from the South Bend Police Department.

Interestingly, the people who determine whether ShotSpotter’s sensors in South Bend have picked up legitimate gunshots are in a command center in California.

“As soon as they click the mouse in California, it comes here to dispatch and the cars at the same time, so we're talking one or two second lag time and it's here and the officers know about it,” Trent explains.

“The only hold-up, and it's a very brief hold-up, is the time it takes for a human being to actually listen to the sound and readily determine that it's consistent with gunshots,” he says.

From the time the workers in California hear the shot to the time South Bend Police are alerted to the location is around five to ten seconds.

While Trent believes ShotSpotter will quickly determine the difference between fireworks and gunshots, his biggest concern is police time and resources being wasted on revelers.

“Besides fireworks, there's celebratory gunfire. People go out, unfortunately, in their backyard, in their alley and their front yard and fire off weapons. That's unfortunate but it's also a fact we're going to have to deal with whether it's in the ShotSpotter zone or elsewhere in the city. It's something we deal with whether it's the Fourth of July, it's New Year’s or an odd weekend night,” Trent says.

Trent encourages people to call police if they believe they have heard gunshots.

Around 75-percent of the shots fired, that ShotSpotter picks up, are not called in to dispatch by private citizens.

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